Tags: Kremlin | Threatens | Radio | Liberty | Bureau

Kremlin Threatens Radio Liberty Bureau

Monday, 14 May 2001 12:00 AM

A spokesman for the chief KGB successor agency - the Federal Security Service - told The Sunday Times that Russia would brook no interference into what it regards an internal matter.

"If Radio Liberty goes ahead with a Chechen service, we are not going to take it calmly," spokesman Alexander Zdanovich said. "The FSB will fight everything that threatens Russia's interests, including in the world of the media."

Despite the Kremlin's threats, the paper said, Radio Liberty will launch the Chechen service no later than August. The Czech Republic and Turkey are named as the most probable site for the service's headquarters.

"We have been given instructions by Congress to start a Chechen service," head of communications Paul Goble told The Sunday Times. "It's one thing to make threats, another to carry them out. If the Kremlin took steps against the radio, the worsening of American-Russian relations would be serious. The Kremlin must be sensitive about that."

According to The Sunday Times, Radio Liberty's plans to broadcast in Chechen are backed "by senior figures in Congress such as Sen. Jesse Helms, the powerful Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee."

The move could mark the lowest point in an ongoing standoff between the station and the Russian authorities whose criticism of the station stems from what they label as "biased reporting."

The Kremlin regards Radio Liberty's coverage of the anti-terrorist campaign in the breakaway province as a tool that undermines its efforts to restore constitutional order in Chechnya. Moreover, the station's bid to launch a service in Chechen has apparently angered the Kremlin which sees the move as an attempt by the U.S. political lobbies to slam Russia for its alleged human rights abuses in the volatile region.

Since the beginning of Russia's latest military campaign in Chechnya in fall 1999, Radio Liberty has relied on investigative reporting to shed light on numerous allegations that question the treatment of Chechen civilians by the Russian servicemen.

Seeking to give the Chechen community an opportunity to access information related to the events in the republic, the station had announced plans to launch a Chechen language service.

Such a decision has heightened the tensions as Moscow doesn't conceal that its opposition to Chechen broadcasting could urge it to shut the station.

A potential closure of Radio Liberty's Moscow bureau could recall the Soviet times when the station was a thorn in the eye of the Communist rulers. Its broadcasting across the territory of the Soviet empire via transmitters located on the other side of the Iron Curtain irritated the Kremlin, which repeatedly tried to jam transmissions.

Ex-President Boris Yeltsin's decree to allow the opening of the station's Moscow bureau in the early 1990s was regarded as one of the landmarks in the development of freedom of speech in post-Soviet Russia's fledgling democracy.

The station tested the Kremlin's sensitivity last January when its leading frontline reporter Andrei Babitsky first disappeared in the Chechen capital Grozny and later reappeared in captivity of the Russian troops. Babitsky was charged with illegal possession of a forged passport and later released after a public outcry in the West.

In recent months, the Bush administration has on several occasions expressed its concern over press freedom in Russia, most markedly during the April takeover of Russia's only independent nationwide television network, NTV, by the state's natural gas monopoly Gazprom.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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A spokesman for the chief KGB successor agency - the Federal Security Service - told The Sunday Times that Russia would brook no interference into what it regards an internal matter. If Radio Liberty goes ahead with a Chechen service, we are not going to take it calmly, ...
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2001-00-14
Monday, 14 May 2001 12:00 AM
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